Jane Austen Retold: Reaching Young Readers, Part One

Image of banner of covers of Austen Retold, by Gill Tavner, Real Reads, (2008) 

 “I dare say you will find him very agreeable.” “Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! — To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”  Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet on dancing with Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 18


It is always a happy discovery to learn that new Jane Austen inspired books are in the queue. Recently we have had a boatload to look forward to such as The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, A Walk with Jane Austen, and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. When I first learned about the publication by Real Reads of Jane Austen’s six major novels retold for a young audience, I was both excited and apprehensive.

When word of the new editions hit the Jane Austen community last year, the emotional and turbid response was not surprising. Janeites are quite protective of their favourite authoress, and immediate questions arose concerning how Jane Austen’s works could be shortened and retold for a young audience without severely altering her original intent. And more seriously, should it even be attempted?

These were intriguing questions, and I felt compelled to discover the answers! I was fortunate to be able to go straight to the source, author Gill Tavner and publisher John Button, of Real Reads in England. Ms. Tavner graciously agreed to an interview, the results of which will be included in two posts published here over the next two days.

Image of the cover of Pride and Prejudice Retold, by Gill Tavner, Real Reads, (2008)The six new illustrated volumes include; Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The first two novels will be officially released for sale today and revealed with great fanfare at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. The last four novels will be released in the UK on March 27th. No launch dates yet in North America, but hopefully they will follow shortly after their UK release dates.

The paperback editions with colour dust jackets run about 65 pages in length, and are generously illustrated in colour by the talented artist Ann Kronheimer. In addition, the volumes are sandwiched by a character listing at the beginning of the text, and an expanded “Taking Things Further”, at the conclusion of the text including plot and character expansions, historical and social perspectives, and further resources for the reader. Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice are available for purchase at Amazon.co.uk., and at Lovereading4kids.co.uk online. 

Image of author Gill TavnerAuthor Gill Tavner was open and honest about her aspirations and objectives in retelling Jane Austen’s classic novels. What transpires in the interview might surprise you. 

How did you become involved in the Real Reads Austen project?

“A chance meeting with John Button of Bookcraft led eventually to a conversation about how classics could possibly be retold for children. We both thought that it would be possible and important to do this with intellectual integrity, and if done well, it would have considerable value to many readers.”

Who did you write these retellings for? Who do you hope to reach?

“Our initial aim for all Real Reads was to write for children between about eight and thirteen years old. These are still the readers I have in mind when I plan and write.

For some readers, I hope that Real Reads light the spark of enthusiasm and confidence to lead them to the original. Accordingly, our notes at the back constantly send the reader back to the original. For other readers, who, for whatever reason, might never have read the original anyway, my books can give them access to great plots, characters and moral issues which have become a part of our culture.”

How were you introduced to Jane Austen and when?

“I didn’t read any Jane Austen until I studied Emma for ‘A’ level English (age 16-18). I then chose to study all of Jane Austen’s novels independently in preparation for the Oxford University entrance exam. At York University I elected a module on ‘Jane Austen and her Predecessors’, which I found fascinating.”

Image of author Gill Tavner


What interested you in retelling Jane Austen’s classic novels?

“For many years, Jane Austen has been my favourite author. Many people we consulted doubted that Jane Austen could successfully be treated (retold) in this way. I decided to consider how I might overcome some of the difficulties Jane Austen would present. Once I had a proposed treatment for all of the novels, and John had agreed them, I began with Sense and Sensibility.”

What qualities as a writer did you appreciate about Jane Austen, and did she inspire you in any way professionally?

“Jane Austen allows her characters the space to reveal themselves through their own words and actions. She rarely tells us what they are like. This is an amazing feat and closely resembles the way we learn about people in everyday life. I haven’t yet found an author who does this as well as she does.

Her wit is second to none. Were she around now, she would be a great host or guest on ‘Have We Got News For You’. (UK readers will get this reference.)

In terms of inspiring me… if only I could be half as clever.”

End of part one.

I hope that you can join us as the interview continues tomorrow, revealing insights into the writing process, and Ms. Tavner’s concluding remarks.

8 thoughts on “Jane Austen Retold: Reaching Young Readers, Part One

Add yours

      1. Please forgive……. where can I find the Link? I am not familiar with where to find it.

        Thanks Again.


        1. Hi Samantha, follow this link to the original post and at the bottom you will see a green link that says Purchase Jane Austen by Real Reads. Select either Amazon.com for US or Amazon.co.uk for UK purchases and click the link and it will take you to the page on the site to purchase the books. Good luck.


          1. Thank you so much. I finally found it. One question more please…
            What age child would you say this series is for?
            Thank you!


            1. Interstesting question Samantha. You can read these stories to any young child, but I think it appropriate for 8-12 year olds. It would depend on their reading level and interest in the classics.


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